by Tanya Keith
I became a Hillary Clinton supporter in a small coffee shop in Newton, Iowa.
I took my daughters, ages 12 weeks and 13 years, to hear her speak before the 2016 Iowa Caucus. I supported Barack Obama in 2008, so this was my first time hearing Clinton speak in person. She said all the right things about issues I care about, but there was one thing missing.
I stood up in the Q&A and asked her to remember my baby. My voice broke as I talked about my experiences as a working mother with my first two children, and how lucky I felt to be staying home with my last baby.
As I held my infant daughter up, I said, “Please remember her. This is the oldest American babies are when their parents’ leave runs out. And families only get to stay together this long if they can afford to take unpaid time off. As a mother, it breaks my heart to think of babies this young and younger headed into day care. As a business owner, it makes me wonder how we can possible hope to attract and retain the best and brightest young workers when we have the worst family policy in the world.” I asked her to work do better for families like mine, and allow working families paid leave. By the time I finished, there were very few dry eyes in that coffee house.
When she answered me, she spoke personally about her experiences as a working mother. She talked about the struggles of trying to balance work and family. She looked at me directly as she promised not to forget us.
As I walked out, my older daughter talked about how excited she was to help elect the first woman president. At first I wanted to caution her that we have to listen to all the candidates and not make a decision just based on gender. But as the months have passed, I continue to think about that moment and how refreshing it was to hear a candidate speak about the experience of motherhood. I think about the women who cannot afford to go unpaid and must return to work almost immediately after giving birth. I think about how as a mother, Hillary Clinton knows that good parenting is about mothers and fathers having the ability to care for their families, not just new mothers, as Donald Trump has proposed.
We need to get children started off right: first being home with their parents, then setting them up for success in school with universal preschool for 4-year-olds. Research points to universal pre-K setting children up for success, and I’ve seen it with my own family.
My oldest daughter went to private preschool before universal pre-K was law in Iowa. Her year at the Science Center Preschool was so important to her success in elementary school. Her curiosity thrived, and she came home so excited about the new things she had learned. When it came time to go to kindergarten, she was already ahead in reading and math, a trend that continued through her elementary and middle school years. Now she’s earning high school credit as an 8th grader, which will free up time later in high school for her to start earning college credits as a public school high schooler.
It’s so important to have well-funded educational opportunities in every zip code. Leaving no child behind is not enough. We have to stimulate the most voracious learners at the other end of the learning spectrum as well.
My son is a summer baby, and we’d planned on redshirting him (delaying kindergarten for a year so he would be the oldest–not youngest–in his class). Because Iowa had universal pre-K when he became eligible, we sent him to preschool as a four-year-old because it was free. During his October conference his teacher showed us his progress at about 40% complete. I worried that he was behind, that he was struggling because he was so young.
She explained that he was at 40% of the year goal a little over a month into school. “He’s one of our brightest students,” she said. “You cannot do a second year of pre-K with him. He will be so bored.”
It was thanks to his universal pre-K year that I started reading about the perils of redshirting, and his teacher convinced us to forego our plans and send him to kindergarten as a five-year-old. Now he’s a fourth grader, and they were right: he has blossomed as a youngest of the class and the thought of him only being in third grade now seems ridiculous. He’s funny and likes to entertain his friends, but has risen to the challenges of education and qualified for gifted and talented programming. When I think about his sense of humor, I realize universal pre-K saved us from having a perpetually bored kid in class who could easily become the class clown.
Instead, he will present Iowa with a graduated student one year earlier. It will have lifelong impact on his learning and earning.
Other children deserve to benefit from early learning in the way mine have. That’s why it’s so important to vote in this election. We have to elect leaders up and down the ticket who will implement paid family leave and fund the best quality education in every zip code.
Our children are counting on us.